Oberoi UdaiVilas (Udaipur, India)
Udaipur is probably my favorite city in India, and definitely my favorite city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It’s such a romantic and beautiful city, deservedly called “the Paris of the East”.
Lack Pichola is the heart of Udaipur, and the city sits on the lake, surrounding it on all sides. My favorite hotel, and my usual haunt, in Udaipur is the famed Taj Lake Palace, but instead of jumping right into writing about that magical place (I could write books!), I’m going to skip instead to covering the UdaiVilas, which lie on the opposite side of the lake from the Udaipur City Palace, and a short boat ride from the Taj Lake Palace (which is a free standing island hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola).
To get to the UdaiVilas, you can either take a boat ferry from a terminal down the street from the City Palace complex, or drive around the lake by car or tuk-tuk to the official ground entrance. I found that the boat ferry was more useful, since most of the time the traffic through the city roads was so bad, it was just quicker to jet across the lake in the ferry. Plus, since the UdaiVilas are on the opposite side of the city from most of the tourist attractions, it’s quite a distance by car to travel to get to see the things you generally want to see. The boat ride at least is novel and fun and allows you to get a unique view of the city while waiting to arrive back at the hotel.
That being said, I do also need to mention that since I am so enamored with the Taj Lake Palace, my review of the UdaiVilas may be biased (just a little). I checked into the hotel for an extended stay of 6 nights on vacation awhile back. I expected, for $600/night, the same price at the Taj Lake Palace, that my check in would be swift, and that the room I had booked would be beautiful and available. Now, for certain, I checked in very late at night after a long and arduous taxi journey, so my time of arrival was not normal. When I arrived for check in, I had to wait a good while for my room to be ready. In addition, the room was no the room I had been lead to believe I was booking when I had called to enquire about booking from America. I had wanted a room with a pool, and I was told that the “Premier Pool View Room with Private Courtyard” would have it’s own pool. It did, sort of. But it was a shared pool with many other rooms and did not exactly lead to the hotel room balcony, as I had envisioned it, and as it had been photographed in the many UdaiVila adverts. So, after waiting a good while to check in (and being very tired), and then being shown a room I didn’t like….it was not a good welcome.
Happily enough, they were able to accommodate me in the room I did want, for an extra upgrade fee. Understandable. The problems did not end, though, when I found out the next day that the wifi was not working. I wouldn’t mind if the wifi wasn’t working in a $20/night guesthouse. I wouldn’t mind if the wifi wasn’t working even in a $200/night hotel. But I was paying $600/night for no wifi??! It wasn’t acceptable. And then there was no chocolate in the mini-bar! I’m sorry but if you’re going to sell yourself as a luxury hotel, a true 5 star hotel, you must have mini-bar chocolate for PMSing women such as myself. I aired my complaints to the manager, and they sent a private butler to the room with chocolates but still were unable to reliably fix the wifi, thus hindering my ability to do a lot of necessary work.
Due to these issues, they gave me some hotel restaurant credit, and I decided to try the food at the hotel. I had a light Western lunch at Chandi (an open air cafe) and it was quite good. However, dinner at Udaimahal (more formal dinner restaurant) was disappointing, as the malai kofta dish I ordered literally tasted like Campbell’s Tomato Soup had been poured over some potato dumplings. YUCK. No spices at all. I am a connoisseur of malai kofta, as it is my favorite Indian dish, and I have actually never had a worse version of it than at Udaimahal. Again, disappointment. I decided to give the spa a try. Nope. Their facials didn’t involve extractions and for over $100, I’m sorry but I expect a steam and an extraction (their words were “therapeutic facials only” whatever that may mean). I didn’t try any of the massages or pedicures or manicures, although they were available. Their steam room lights didn’t work and there was a lot of mold growing in the changing area. Not impressed.
The last straw came when I had sent wet laundry away for cleaning (one of my friends had thrown me in my private pool with my clothes on and I had sent them to be washed and dried) and the clothes were STILL not washed and dried 2 days later! In addition, I had a private tarot card reader come to my hotel to do a reading and they wouldn’t let him past the lobby to come to my room so I had to walk the 1/2 mile of hallways to the lobby to get him and walk him back to my room. I understand security, and I understand that the culture is different in India and a man alone with a woman in a hotel is frowned upon, but you would think that since I am a guest and a Westerner they would walk him back to my room FOR ME, but they flatly refused. I was not a fan. And then I had someone coming to stay with me one night and they wouldn’t let this person in either without me physically coming to walk them in.
It was really a hassle and after 3 days, I decided to defect to the Lake Palace hotel for the last 3 days of my stay in Udaipur. I felt that, at $600/night, that I could have had a lot better treatment, and since the Lake Palace hotel and the UdaiVilas cost roughly the same thing, I would rather stay at the Lake Palace and built up Taj Inner Circle points and stay with a staff who knew me very well vs. a hotel that obviously was going to treat me like I was staying at my local Super 8 motel.
I’ve stayed at other Oberoi properties in Agra and Cairo and been very happy with their services. I’m not sure what went wrong with the UdaiVilas, but I can safely say I won’t be staying there again, although the property was lovely and I did enjoy the wild peacocks roaming around the grounds every so often in the early mornings. I will also, lastly, add this: if you’re interested in staying in historic properties, choose the Taj chain. They make an effort to lease out or buy up true historical properties (old palaces, old hotels) and restore them to their former glory vs. the Oberoi chain who tends to build replicas of these older properties. For instance, the UdaiVilas is a recently built property (I believe it was built in 2003) vs. the Lake Palace which is the historical summer residence for the ruler of Udiapur. At least for me, the experience of staying in a true former palace is much more interesting and magical than the experience of staying in a replica, despite it being a newer and supposedly better property.
Lastly, I want to note that after secretly commandeering a golf cart and having an undercover speed jetty boat sent to pick me up from the UdaiVila dock to take me to the Lake Palace, I was greeted by name and lead immediately to my room at the Lake Palace, which had been outfitted according to all of my preferences. They even had an ENTIRE CHOCOLATE CAKE waiting for me with my name spelled out in white chocolate ganache!! At the end of the day, the Taj Lake Palace will always be my “go to” spot in Udaipur, but I am glad I tried the UdaiVilas, because at least now I know never to return again.
UdaiVilas: Rooms start at $400/night for garden view and go up to $8000/night for the Kohinoor Luxury Suite (I stayed in and photographed the premier room with semi-private pool).
Taj Lake Palace: Rooms start at $600/night for luxury rooms and go up to $6000/night for the Grand Presidential Suite (I will review this hotel separately in a later post).